Why I Competed Again

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Why I Competed Again

November 11, 2014

This past weekend, I competed at the OCB West Coast Classic in Tampa, Florida hosted by Paul Revelia and his wife Misty.

That was 3.5 years in the making.

The last time I stepped on stage before that was May 2011 and I was 21 years old. I’d pretty much sworn off competing for good – because not only was that an exhausting experience, but I’d also struggled to re-gain my sense of normalcy for the next few months (and arguably, years) after that.

Here at SoheeFit, I talk a lot about the importance of fitness mindset. As in, while the specific program you’re following obviously has to be sound and safe, all of that means nothing if your mindset is not in the right place.

That’s why I preach sustainability, patience, enjoying the ride, throwing yourself a bone, and thinking long-term.

As my brand has continued to grow and evolve over the past three years, I’ve been feeling like my previous views on competing were a tad misguided.

I kept asking myself, Could it be that a healthy and balanced contest prep is possible, provided that I approach it in the right way?

Because the truth is, the idea of competing – whether it be in bikini, figure, physique, or bodybuilding – has always appealed to me. It’s what got me to fall in love with fitness in the first place.

The concept of bringing your body to its physical peak through months and weeks of dedicated work has always seemed natural to me. As a (recovering) perfectionist, I’m always looking to bring my best to whatever it may be that I’m doing – whether it be academic, career-oriented, or physical.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that not all aspects of competing may be considered fair and may not seem inherently healthy. Yes, competing is a subjective sport, and yes, there is almost guaranteed to be a certain degree of neurosis bound to manifest itself, particularly in the last few weeks leading into your show.

Despite all of that, however, I still wanted to test myself.

Would I be able to practice what I preach day in and day out and still get contest lean?
Would I be able to dedicate the time and energy into contest prep while juggling a full-time job and planning a wedding?
Would I still be able to have a social life and maintain my quality of life without losing my marbles like I did the last time around?

It was, in some ways, the Ultimate Test for me.

Here’s why I decided to compete again.

I wanted to confirm my suspicions that I was wrong before.

Here are all the things that I convinced myself were true after my last show:

  • going through a contest prep is necessarily miserable
  • you will necessarily develop unhealthy obsessions
  • a trophy is the only prize you can get out of it
  • you will definitely feel lost and aimless after all is said and done

Since then, I’ve done a lot of reading and learning about behavioral psychology, habits, and mindset.

Specifically, I’ve come to learn that, while we can’t always change our surrounding circumstances, we are in complete control of how we choose to respond to them and how we choose to view them.

So could it be possible, then, that I was merely being reactive, rather than proactive, with my last show?

I’ve come to realize that I had adopted a bit of the victim mindset with my first prep. Things were happening to me; I was being forced to choke down chicken and brown rice; there was nothing I could possibly do to make things better.

Because I know now that if you believe that something is going to suck, then it most definitely will. In other words, your behaviors and actions fall in line with your beliefs.

Which then led me to ask: What if I actively changed the way I viewed contest prep?

It wasn’t going to be about that trophy anymore.
It wasn’t going to be one-and-done.
My self-esteem wasn’t going to be contingent upon my placing or the judges’ feedback.

I suspected that, if I changed my focus from seeing the stage as the end-goal but rather as a milestone in a long-term, lifelong, never-ending journey, I would fare much better.

I suspected that I wouldn’t panic over day-to-day fluctuations, that I wouldn’t binge after the show, that I wouldn’t experience food obsessions (or really, obsessions of any kind).

In short, I felt that everything I believed about competing before was incorrect and that those false views had stemmed from a place of defeat.

I wanted to test not only my physical but also my mental limits.

I knew that lifting heavy didn’t make women bulky.

I knew that it was nutrition that largely determined if and how much muscle (and fat) was gained.

But more than that, I wanted to find out how much muscle I’d built over the past three years and how my body shape had changed.

And I could kind of tell by looking at my everyday, maintenance-mode physique in the mirror, but I couldn’t be sure.

Why not strip off the fat and see what’s underneath there?

Was it an act of vanity? You could call it that, though I certainly don’t see it that way.

Consider this: I’ve been lifting consistently and diligently for close to seven years now. In that time, not once have I been thought of as bulky or “too big” by any standard.

But still, there’s always been a part of me that’s had a (one-sided) love affair with obliques.

Obliques, I think, are one of the sexiest muscles that a woman can sport, and it’s difficult for them to show if 1) you don’t have enough muscle mass, and 2) if you’re not lean enough.

With my first show, I definitely didn’t have any obliques. I was 106lbs on stage (at 5’2”) and yet, after having dropped close to 20lbs, I felt skinny and weak and didn’t even look like I lifted.

But what about three years later? After years of eating right and lifting heavy and hard, maybe I’d built up enough muscles for those elusive obliques of mine to make an appearance.

I wanted to test that.

Showing off my hard work. This is what I look like after 7 years of heavy, consistent lifting.

Showing off my hard work. This is what I look like after 7 years of heavy, consistent lifting.

You be the judge.

From a mental standpoint, I do believe that undergoing a contest prep is one of the more difficult things that people can undergo. Because not only are you required to be meticulous with your eating and your training, but you’re also required to do so consistently over a period of several months.

There really is no “off” time. You don’t get to punch in your nine hours of work and then go home and unwind with a pint of ice cream, then come back the next day with your work left intact.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Knowing that, then, I wanted to challenge myself to stick to my program and not only be consistent, but do it in a matter that would allow me to still live my life.

Would I be able to train myself to stay calm and collected throughout my prep and not feel like I’m “grinding it out” all the time?
To what degree could I eliminate the need for self-control and put things on autopilot?

This, I knew, would be incredibly difficult, and to be honest, I wasn’t entirely certain that I’d be able to accomplish this.

That’s why when I hired my friend Paul Revelia to coach me, I promised myself that I would back out of this prep as soon as I felt like my mindset was being compromised.

But still, I felt that it was worth testing out.

I wanted to prove that I walk the walk.

It’s one thing to preach this and that and to tell my clients and my readers that x, y, z is the way to go about things.

But to actively demonstrate that in my life – wow, how cool would that be?

I didn’t want to be one of those “do as I say, not as I do” role models.

Now, I understand that I could have achieved this without having to compete.

There was a certain appeal, however, to trying to coax rather than force my body to its physical limits without actually having to resort to extreme measures.

In short, I wanted to flip conventional contest prep wisdom on its head.

It’s not about “struggle harder than me” or bragging about how much cardio you have to do. I still don’t get why that’s something to be proud of.

I knew in my head that utilizing a macros-based approach and incorporating my favorite foods into my diet on the regular could get me contest lean. I wanted to experience that for myself.

If I can obtain the same results using smarter, more sustainable methods, then why not do that? If I experience zero rebound, zero body image issues, and zero mindf*cks after the fact, then who’s the real winner here?

I won two first place trophies this past weekend - but that's not what made me a winner.

I won two first place trophies this past weekend – but that’s not what made me a winner.

Let me be clear: I waited three full years before even entertaining the thought of competing again.

Why? Because I wanted to be doing it for the right reasons.

I wanted to be certain that I wasn’t struggling with body image issues, that I wasn’t doing it solely to get lean, that it wasn’t coming from a place of self-hate.

No.

My reasons for competing were far, far larger than that.

I waited until I could harbor the right mindset.

I worked hard to come to a place of security, of self-love and compassion, of understanding through and through that my self-worth had nothing to do with the number on the scale or my physical looks.

Then, and only then, did I think about strapping on my bikini and stepping back on stage.

In reality, I did this largely for myself.

But I realize that I did this for you, too.

If you need any consolation that a healthy, sustainable prep is possible, let this be it.

——

 

Looking great doesn’t have to be a miserable process.

Interested in getting stage lean or simply losing some fat the healthy, sustainable way? Let me help you figure out how.

Fill out the form at www.soheefit.com/coaching and I’ll show you how to get started on your journey right away.

 

6 Comments
  1. Guest 4 years ago

    Hi Sohee Lee,
    Wow thank you so much for writing that article! It really struck a chord with me! I loved everything you wrote. I competed this past summer, and after reflecting I think it was a very negative experience for me because it threw me back into patters

  2. Marta Michałek 4 years ago

    Hi Sohee Lee,
    Wow thank you so much for writing that article! It really struck a chord with me! I loved everything you wrote. I competed this past summer, and after reflecting I think it was a very negative experience for me because it threw me back into old destructive patterns. I still loved certain aspects of it, and would like to one day do it again – in a healthy way, like you did! Thanks 🙂

    • Sohee Lee 4 years ago

      It’s definitely possible, Marta. I’d love to see you come to a place of peace with yourself and your body before competing again. 🙂

  3. Alida Lippa 4 years ago

    Sohee, as always, you write from such an “open book” standpoint, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in order to shed light and help others that may have struggled with this. Although I’ve never competed, I can totally relate to the “high” you get from how your body looks and the hard work and discipline it takes. I’ve done it for different events in my life but I’ve always rebounded. I know realize there’s waaaay more to me than a shell and that I don’t have to beat myself to get where I want to be. Thankfully, I found you and you have given me great perspective as well as balance in my life. Thanks again for being so “real” with all of us!! xoxo

    • Sohee Lee 4 years ago

      Alida, my aim is to be as open as possible about both my struggles and my victories because I truly believe that my learning lessons can be applied to others. Thank you for putting your trust in me as your coach!

  4. Katharina Riedl 4 years ago

    Congratulations! 🙂 This is exactly what I needed to read! I decided for myself to wait until I feel ready for my next prep and felt incredible guilty, because I’m bringing girls on stage every season, teaching them how to compete in a healthy way. But being NOT ABLE to compete myself made me feel miserable about myself. Now I feel like I made the right decision. I experience rebounds and crazy diets and NEVER want to fall back in this regime of self-hate and body image issues. Thank you for writing this! Now I know that taking a time off from stage does not mean that I’m a fake or bad coach. Thank you, Sohee!!! :-*

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